Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Culture and Culture
The fact is that God has chosen to make himself and his will known in the languages, beliefs, practices, and values of particular cultures. This is true of God’s self-revelation in Scripture, which comes through the writings of dozens of people representing various cultures and spanning many centuries. It is also true of God’s ultimate revelation in Jesus, the Word of God Incarnate, who came at a particular time in a particular place to a particular people, through whom he intended to save the whole world.Ever been to the Little Italy neighborhood of Manhattan? It is distinctly Italian. And yet it is nothing like the half-a-dozen or so cities I have visited in Italy. This is the tension Roberts is describing.
The good news of God’s communicating within cultures is that we human beings can understand what God is saying to us, because we cannot stand outside of human culture. The words we use, the ways we think, the things we do, the assumptions we make, all of these and so much more reflect our own cultures. So, it’s good that God speaks within culture, in words and ways that we can understand. The bad news is that we can easily become confused by what God meant to say in a given culture that is not our own, as well as by what God means to say today. For example, when Ephesians 6:5 tells slaves to obey their earthly masters, rather than saying slavery is an abomination contradictory to God’s intentions for humanity, is this telling us that God approves of slavery? Or is God speaking into a particular cultural setting, assuming the existence of slavery without endorsing it, and helping slaves in that culture shape their lives in a sinful world according to the gospel?
So how to resolve that tension? Our first citizen ship is in God's kingdom. Therefore, our neighborhood should be recognizable to anyone else whose first citizen ship is also there.
Now, think about the variety of Christian expression in this country and the world. Unless we are willing to say all expressions but our own are not really citizens of God's kingdom, then the commonality we seek must be somewhere other than in external trappings. So what are the commonalities that define the culture of the Kingdom of God?
I think it has more to do with character than anything else.